Seeing the light

Winchester native cites drug court as key to her recovery

Kelly Lane Hopkins graduated from the Clark-Madison County Drug Court program May 29 at the Clark County Circuit Courthouse. Hopkins said the program allowed her to get her life headed in the right direction, and she can finally envision the future she’s always wanted coming to fruition. LASHANA HARNEY/THE WINCHESTER SUN

Kelly Lane Hopkins wants to further her education. 

She wants to build a career. She wants a family, a house — all the things she never thought she could have. 

But for the first time in her life, the Winchester native said those things are finally in her reach, thanks to drug court. 

“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel so to say,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins, 31, graduated from the Clark-Madison County Drug Court program May 29 at the Clark County Circuit Courthouse. It was the drug court’s 25th judicial graduation. She was in the program for about 18 months, and she’s been sober since Jan. 28, 2017, nearly two and a half years.

A lot of bad decisions and an addiction that took its hold led Hopkins to drug court. Growing up, she had a healthy, happy childhood alongside her two sisters. Hopkins was the middle child. Her parents were together, and they were happy, Hopkins said. 

When Hopkins was 15, her oldest sister got pregnant at a young age. Hopkins’ sister got married and moved out. A few months after her older sister gave birth to her first daughter, her and Hopkins’ world stopped. 

“My mother passed away in a car wreck, which was very hard for me,” Hopkins said. 

About a year after her mother’s death, Hopkins went to Florida with her father, younger sister and a friend. It was there she had her first drink. Hopkins didn’t get sick. She liked it. From then on, any extra money went to drinking on the weekends at parties. 

Eventually, Hopkins said, she found drugs at those parties too. In no time, she was a full blown addict.

“It made me feel better,” she said.

Her drug habit continued as she entered her 20s. She started work as a stripper at 20 years old; it was the only job she could keep at the time. 

“It just progressed very rapidly,” Hopkins said. “I didn’t care about school or anything else. I did one semester of college and dropped out. Then I was living the lifestyle. I was making money … and then I was selling drugs for a while.”

In 2011, Hopkins was pregnant, which was a light in all of the darkness. She gave birth on Oct. 3, 2011, to her daughter Chloe Lane. 

“I thought she would change my life, and I would get back on track,” Hopkins wrote in an online testimony.

But not even her daughter was enough to keep her sober. On Jan. 9, 2012, Hopkins awoke to find her 3-month-old daughter had passed away during the night due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, commonly known as SIDS.

It was the worst day of her life.

“That took my drug use into a whole different level,” Hopkins said. “It was just kind of like, by any means necessary … I didn’t care. I was mad at God … And that’s whenever the drug dealing got bad. I got into heroin then.”

About three years later, in 2015, Hopkins was charged with four felonies. She had three trafficking and possession charges and then received another contraband charge.

Hopkins was in jail for a month but got out on bond until the trial. The first thing she did was get high, she said.

The court hearings lasted over a year. Hopkins was breaking into homes, stealing things; she had become homeless.

But “by God’s grace,” Hopkins said, police picked her up on a charge for receiving stolen property. 

So, she returned to jail. And would sit in jail for six months until her felony cases were over. It was then she reconnected with God, read her Bible and attended church. 

And it was there, she heard about drug court. 

“I told my lawyer I was interested in drug court because I was just tired of that life,” Hopkins said. “I knew I was going to be in jail for a long time. And, at the time, it was just a cry for help to get me out of jail, anything to quit living how I was living.”

Hopkins pleaded guilty to her felony charges, and drug court sent her straight to Liberty Place Recovery Center for Women, a long-term substance abuse recovery program for women that provides support and hope for women recovering.

“I was there for about five months,” Hopkins said. “Then I came home, and that’s whenever my drug court started.”

Hopkins excelled in drug court. Her connections at Liberty Place fostered a strong foundation for Hopkins’ recovery. She built an active fellowship with others in drug court and discovered the Achieving Recovery Together (ART) Center.

Hopkins said she now feels secure in telling her truth, knowing support surrounds her. 

“I’m brutally honest now,” Hopkins said. “I go to my doctor and tell him exactly what’s going on, and I’ll let him about my former drug use because you can’t receive the help you need if you don’t tell the truth. And job applications now, I used to lie and say that I hadn’t done anything … but (I’m) being honest with myself, really, with my therapist about what’s going on, and I found out that I’m being treated for depression and anxiety. 

“And I think now that not my drug use was a way to self medicate for past traumas that I’ve been through. I suffer from PTSD. And that’s probably where the depression and anxiety come from … but being honest with myself and being able to go to people and ask for help and not be afraid to share my past.”

Hopkins said she thinks it was the accountability aspect and the support drug court provided that helped her navigate the path of recovery with success.

“As an addict, you just do whatever you want,” Hopkins said. “I didn’t care if it was breaking the law. I just did what I wanted, no matter who thought anything about it. Being in drug court, you have all these appointments you got to make. They set all this stuff up for you. So you don’t have any free time.”

During the program, participants attend court, see a therapist, go to meetings and groups, connect with caseworkers and more. 

“Everyone says that drug court is set up for failure, but it’s not if you want a new way of life,” Hopkins said. 

Without the drug court program, which has been around since the late 1990s, Hopkins said she thinks she’d still be in jail. Or dead. 

“I would still be out in the madness doing the only thing I knew what to do because I’ve been living that life since I was 15,” she said. “It was the only way I knew how to live.”

Now, for the first time, Hopkins said she has friends.

“Like real friends, not just the ones that are worried about what I can give them and or what they can give me,” she said.

For the first time, Hopkins said she doesn’t wake up every morning in a panic worrying about what she is going to have to do to get something.

“Even my bad days now are still 100 times better than my best day out there,” she said. “I don’t have to look over my shoulder worried about if the cops are around.”

A few weeks ago, Hopkins got pulled over for not wearing her seat belt. 

It was the first time an officer pulled over Hopkins while she was sober. Hopkins didn’t have to worry. She knew her car was legal; she had insurance. There was nothing or no one in her car that would cause trouble.

“I was happy to get pulled over,” Hopkins said. “I got a seat belt ticket, but I took a selfie with the cop and everything.”

Hopkins said she hopes others can see the value of the drug court program. 

“Jail doesn’t fix you at all,” she said. “I was in there for five months before I started my recovery journey. And you sit in a cell  … you’re sober, but your mind is still at the day that you went to jail. There’s no growth; there’s no change.

“Drug court offers you a way to learn how to live,” she said. 

And Hopkins is living, working toward that light she can finally see.

She has a full-time job, working as a cook at DV8 Kitchen, a daytime eatery giving second chance employment to those in substance abuse recovery. She’s also looking for peer support specialist jobs. She received her certification as a peer support specialist and family support specialist while enrolled in the drug court program. 

Hopkins is a daughter, a sister, a friend and an aunt. She loves to spend time outdoors, hiking or camping. 

She volunteers for the ART Center and attends meetings for those in recovery at least three times a week. She completed the steps through Celebrate Recovery and is now a sponsor to others in recovery. 

“I feel good to give back, and try to help others and let them know that there is life after addiction,” Hopkins said. “You can bounce back because I know whenever you’re in that cycle you don’t see any other future. I thought these were the cards I was dealt; this is the life I’m going to live, there’s no hope for me, I’m too far gone. 

“But drug court opened my eyes.”

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ debuts Friday

There’s a mean green mother from outer space in town, and she’s bad.

Audrey II keeps growing bigger and bigger in the George Rogers Clark High School’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” which debuts at 7:30 p.m. tonight. (Photo by Lashana Harney)

Winchester residents can see Audrey II, the mutant Venus flytrap, and the rest of the cast of “Little Shop of Horrors” beginning at 7 p.m. at the GRC Cardinal Theatre.

George Rogers Clark High School debuts “Little Shop of Horrors” tonight with shows continue throughout the weekend with a 7 p.m. Saturday showing and a 2 p.m. Sunday show.

Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults at the door. Clark County Public Schools employees may show their CCPS employee ID at the teacher ticket station for free admission on the nights of the show.

The link to purchase tickets at regular price is They will also be available at the door. For any questions, email GRC Fine Arts Coordinator Katherine Lowther at

Jalam Sutton as Seymour in George Rogers Clark High School’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” which premieres at 7:30 p.m. tonight. (Photo by Lashana Harney)

“Little Shop of Horrors” is a rock musical about a nerdy plant shop employee named Seymour (Jalam Sutton) who discovers a mutant Venus flytrap, and the plant needs blood to survive.

Seymour winds up bargaining with the plant to get a girl he’s in love with (Audrey), and things become complicated.

Sarina McQuerry as Audrey in George Rogers Clark High School’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” which premieres at 7:30 p.m. tonight. (Photo by Lashana Harney)

“Little Shop of Horrors” started as an off-Broadway production before it became a movie in 1986, with which most people are familiar, musical director Kristofer Olson said.

“The show is also a takeoff on science fiction B-movies of the 1950s and 1960s, so that is era the show is set, and a lot of the music is inspired by doo wop and rock ‘n’ roll,” Olson said. “It’s a unique, twisted, funny, inspired show.”

Over 80 students in all are involved in this production, including the cast, pit orchestra and tech crew. There are also several staff members involved.

“It takes a lot of energy, coordination, and helping one another out,” Olson said. “You have to love musical theater and have a passion for sharing it with high schoolers to keep going.”

Students had auditions at the end of November, had the first read-through in December, and started true rehearsals the first week of January.

“There are a lot of technical marvels in this production,” Olson said. “For one, there are talking plants, so students have been involved in puppetry, there’s animation and just a variety of costume changes and lots of thought that went into the set design.

Jalam Sutton as Seymour and James Catron as Mr. Mushnik in George Rogers Clark High School’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” which premieres at 7:30 p.m. tonight. (Photo by Lashana Harney)

“This is the book that they would do on Broadway, including the vocal parts and orchestra book, so the kids are stretched, and they have met the challenge in spades. Many high schools hire ringers to play in the pit orchestra, but we’re proud that we have students playing the parts. Musicals are a fabulous opportunity to develop real-world experience in high school, let alone developing a great memory.”

Olson said director Katherine Lowther, who is also an English teacher, art history teacher, Fine Arts department chair, show producer and piano player, took on the mantle of director in the fall and has done a remarkable job in her first year in the position, thinking exceptionally hard about the details and holding a high standard of performance for the students.

“Any success we have is because of her,” Olson said.

Choreographer Ellie Miller has done a lot of work with the Leeds Center for the Arts, and Olson said GRC was lucky to bring her on board as the choreographer.

“She has a tremendous eye for the stage, understands theater (and theater people) thoroughly, and is just a great sounding board in putting together scenes and musical numbers,” Olson said. “She just finished up doing another production at Frederick Douglass High School, so she’s in high demand.”

Galen Arnett as Orin Scrivello in George Rogers Clark High School’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” which premieres at 7:30 p.m. tonight. (Photo by Lashana Harney)

Set and costume designer Stephanie Wilson and the visual art students also spent many hours (including on weekends) constructing the set, painting and taking care of props.

“A lot of detail went into every aspect of what you see, which is a credit to Ms. Wilson’s vision and the way she has trained her art students,” Olson said.

The George Rogers Clark High School’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” debuts at 7:30 p.m. tonight. (Photo by Lashana Harney)

Olson said the audience could expect a new take on the story as students have made great choices with their characterizations, in part taking inspiration from the iconic movie and past productions but more importantly bringing their thoughts to their roles.

“One standout scene to me is between the sadistic dentist and Seymour,” Olson said. “It’s hilarious. Our doo-wop girls group sounds fabulous, and they provide all sorts of personality. You’ll think you’re watching ‘the Supremes.’

Galen Arnett as Orin Scrivello in George Rogers Clark High School’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” which premieres at 7:30 p.m. tonight. (Photo by Lashana Harney)

“Seymour and Audrey share several tenders moments. Mushnik is pure comic relief in this show, and then there’s our outstanding high-energy ensemble. Everyone has owned their role. You’ll see lots of unique touches and details in our set, and the finale will be a spectacle audiences members probably haven’t seen at many other shows.”

Olson said students had taken their preparation seriously. They yearn to get harmony parts right, they put in extra practice for dances, and they exude enthusiasm for theater.

“You’ll listen to a tune like ‘Suddenly Seymour’ and be impressed that you’re watching 15, 16, and 17-year-olds sing harmony so well and with genuine emotion,” Olson said. “Audience members will see young people putting on such a conscientious performance and see that the kids today are fine.”

Sarina McQuerry as Audrey in George Rogers Clark High School’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” which premieres at 7:30 p.m. tonight. (Photo by Lashana Harney)

Overall, Olson said people should come out because “Little Shop of Horrors” is a great show. “How many musicals exist about mutant plants, let alone set to doo-wop music?” Olson said. “It’s a funny, moving, quirky show, and people will leave feeling inspired by the work that went into it. There are so many wrong things youth can get into, and the fact that 80 teenagers are devoting themselves to an act of creation and cooperation deserves to be seen and celebrated.

“Also, towns and cities grow through acts of community. Hundreds of people converging in our theater does a lot to connect the people of Winchester.”

The George Rogers Clark High School’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” debuts at 7:30 p.m. tonight. (Photo by Lashana Harney)

Theo & Brenna

Clark County Preschool Field Day

Lion King KIDS

Clark native follows childhood passion to local bison ranch

“Pretty, ain’t they?”

Seven-year-old Brandeon Hampton stared at the TV in awe, watching and listening intently to the exchange between the fictional former Texas Rangers Gus McCrae and Pea Eye Parker.

“I reckon,” Parker, played by actor Timothy Scott, answered.

“Let’s chase ’em,” McCrae, played by Robert Duvall, said. “You want to?”

“Shoot us one for our supper?”

“No, I mean chase ’em just for the sport of it.”

“To run them off?”

“You don’t get the point, do you Pea? I mean chase ’em, because, before long, there won’t be any buffalo left to chase.”

Hampton watched as Gus McCrae took off to chase the herd of six-feet tall, 2000 pound buffalo. Hampton, or “Buffalo Brandeon” as some tease,” wanted to chase them too.

Ever since Hampton, now 39, watched “Lonesome Dove,” the buffalo called for him. They sure were pretty like Gus McCrae said.

“I just fell in love with seeing the iconic image of the bison,” Hampton said.

But for a time, Hampton set his dreams aside to pursue other ventures.

Hampton’s family were in the custom-car business, turning rust to riches. They own several shops in Winchester. Hampton said his family, the Stanfields, is known all over for their custom street and rat-rods.

After graduating from George Rogers Clark High School in 1998, Hampton eventually went on to work in the pharmaceutical industry. He said he was burned out for the time being working on cars; it was all Hampton had ever known since he was 6-years-old.

So, Hampton accepted a job at Catalent and after working on an assembly line for a time, moved into the research development department. Hampton approached the task as he did working on cars, through trial and error and looking at each of the components.

Finally, Hampton looked up, and it was 16 years later. He had moved up in the company, assuming a supervisor position in the research and development department.

Throughout those years, Hampton spent his spare time hunting.

Hampton dabbled in archery in his teen years, and when he got older, he entered archery competitions. Eventually, he got tied into doing professional filming with The American Outdoorsman, a weekly hunting and fishing TV and radio show.

“That led me to my first trip out west,” Hampton said. “We went to 11 different states, and one of them was Montana.”

Montana seemed far, far away to a small town boy from Kentucky, Hampton said. He traveled to Bozeman, Montana, and was right next door to Ted Turner, the second largest individual landowner in North America and famed bison rancher. The Turner bison herd across 15 ranches comprises about 51,000 bison, which is the largest private herd in the world, according to Turner’s website.

Hampton was close, but he didn’t get to chase the herd. Though, he still yearned to.

In 2006, Hampton was sitting down by the fire at the then-local boys club, Winchester Hunting. He and his friends would “picture-hunt” deep into the pages of “Bowhunt America,” a tip and gear oriented bowhunting magazine.

Somehow, a September 2006 issue of “Bowhunt America” ended up in Hampton’s truck.

Months later, Hampton stumbled upon the magazine while cleaning out his truck.

“Next thing I know, I pick it up, and I have to throw it out of the truck,” Hampton said. “It lands on this article, ‘Legendary Buffalo,’ and I looked down, and oh my gosh, that is an actual buffalo. So, I started reading this article, and it was about a gentleman named Dan McFarland.”

Dan McFarland owned Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch, near Fredericksburg in the rolling hills and timber country of Northeast Iowa.

McFarland, instead of selling the buffalo to other ranchers and the slaughterhouse, would welcome people into his home. He would offer tours of his expansive ranch and then teach people about the Native American traditions involving buffalo, how they honored the buffalo when they took it life.

Plains tribes used the bison to provide shelter, food, clothing, weapons, tools and even children’s playthings. The buffalo became a crucial part of their lives and economies. McFarland made sure his visitors understood their importance.

“He’s teaching us to use every animal in life from its nose to tail,” Hampton said. “Don’t waste anything.”

The visitors would then go on to hunt the bison. The experience was primitive; the visitors could only use bows and other primitive hunting weapons.

After reading the article, Hampton reached out. In June of 2007, he and McFarland talked on the phone for nearly three hours. The pair bonded quickly and still speak to this day.

“We’ve been the best of friends, like a father and a son,” Hampton said.

Hampton worked close with McFarland for about six years, learning the ins and outs of the bison business. Hampton traveled to farmers markets, processing plants and more. He watched their social structure, their eating patterns; Hampton wanted to know about their meat, their nature and their essence.

“I was a sponge to the bison,” Hampton said. “I just soaked up everything I could.”

The bison were unique creatures, and Hampton was fascinated.

In 2010, Tom Rice, a Lexington radiologist, bought a 230-plus acre property on Quisenberry Road.

Hampton caught wind of it and one day came out and offered to set up a bowhunting range for free on the former golf course.

Hampton even set up a “camo church.”

“We were teaching [people] the ins and outs of hunting, gun hunting, gun safety, bow hunting, both safety, hunting, fishing, but with biblical principles,” Hampton said.

The private archery course eventually went public and then after a time, Rice shut it down publicly but kept Hampton on board.

Rice told Hampton he admired his work ethic and enjoyed his stories. He then asked Hampton what would he do with the farm.

“I said, the first thing I would do is bring the buffalo here,” Hampton said.

Hampton had been looking to chase the buffalo all these years, he thought, this could be his chance.

“The motto that I’ve always used was without a vision, you have no future, and a dream doesn’t have an expiration date,” Hampton said. “And so [Rice] started talking about what’s your plans and intentions? I said the number one thing is awareness of buffalo and who they are. I want to honor the animal first.”

Hampton told Rice he wanted to start tours and share the iconic image and fascinating history of the buffalo with the community. Rice inquired about meat sells, and Hampton said they could do that, too.

“That’s how we slowly began,” Hampton said.

Hampton started with about eight bison on the 240-acre farm which they later dubbed Blackfish Bison Ranch. Since 2013, the herd has significantly grown, with a current head count of about 100 bison.

Hampton said the tours had been a success, averaging around 1,500 people a year.

Hampton lives in a log cabin on Blackfish, named for Chief Blackfish of the Chillicothe division of the Shawnee tribe, year-round tending the herd. The front of the cabin is the meat shop, where anyone can come in and purchase a cut of meat seven days a week. Blackfish offers ground bison, filets, rib-eye, short ribs and is adding a new line of bison jerky.

As visitors move further into the cottage, Hampton’s obedience to honoring the animal from head to toe is evident.

Waylon, a two-year-old red heeler and Hampton’s only other worker on the farm, lays snugly on the buffalo fur draped over the couch. Bison skulls hang on the walls, and tiny metal knobs shaped as buffalo heads adorn the kitchen.

Leftover roast bison sits in a Mason jar in the fridge. In his office area, a massive stuffed head of a six-and-a-half-foot bison looms overhead, adjacent to his Elvis Presley memorabilia.

Hampton is a huge fan of Elvis, he said. In the barn, Hampton has a few cars he’s working on rebuilding. He never let go of his custom-car heritage; instead, he’s intertwining it with his passion for bison, adding bison-leather seats, a buffalo horn shifter and more.

Hampton sleeps, eats and practically breathes bison.

The buffalo are what Hampton calls “God’s Original Equipment.”

He raises the bison to be “unadulterated,” which means they aren’t bred to achieve a specific color, size or temperament. Other than having a large social circle, all bison need is food, water and a peaceful place to live. So, Hampton provides those needs, and let the bison roam free, emulating their lives as closely as possible to what it would’ve been like hundreds of years ago.

“We raise our animals to be as primitive as possible, as natural and humanely and they are all grass-fed, grass-finished bison,” Hampton said.

Tours begin with a lesson from Hampton. He details the history of the American buffalo, its close call with extinction and how private ranches like his have helped repopulate North America’s largest land mammal, named in 2016 as the U.S. national mammal.

The story started in the 1700s when the Shawnee used Kentucky primarily as hunting grounds. In 1778, about 70 to 100 million American Bison, commonly known as buffalo, roamed the landscape. It was at this time the natives encountered Daniel Boone and his party.

Beginning in the 1800s, American expansion and overhunting, nearly drove the iconic American animal to extinction. Although their numbers shrank to a seriously small figure, the U.S. never classified the bison as an endangered species.

Hampton said colonization and Western expansion through the railroad narrowed the population to just 5,000 by the 1860s. Herds, numbering more than 30 million when the first European explorers set foot on American soil, were nearly wiped out by the 1880s.

By 1923, fewer than 700 bison remained in existence.

As of 2018, roughly 400,000 bison — with the most significant increase occurring in the last 40 years — now roam the pastures and rangelands across North America, thanks primarily to private conservation efforts, marking a remarkable comeback for a species that teetered on the brink of extinction little more than a century ago.

“They have stood the test of time,” Hampton said.

Bison are as important as the American flag, as the rose, like the bald eagle, Hampton said. They, quite literally, helped to shape the fabric of North America’s landscape, he said.

Hampton’s guided tours make it possible for people to get face-to-face with the animals that were nearly extinct.

After the tour, people can purchase the meat at the ranch. Blackfish also sells products at the Winchester-Clark County Farmers Market and Full Circle Market. Local restaurants, such as Graze Cafe, also use bison meat in some of their dishes.

Hampton swears on the cleanliness and quality of the meat. It is much lower in fat and higher in protein and iron. The beef, a bit sweet in flavor, is easy to cook.

“It requires less effort on marinades and soaking,” Hampton said.

Hampton said he is currently working on a consulting business to help other ranchers chase their buffalo. Hampton said there’s only a handful of bison ranchers across the state, and none are doing it like he is at Blackfish.

Hampton is paving a path for a new-type of rancher, taking on the role of historian and educator as well as manager to the farm. The buffalo roam Blackfish Bison Ranch, and Hampton watches, records and shares.

Hampton tries to document everything. The National Bison Association (NBA) has previously recognized Hampton as a social media guru.

Hampton said the bison’s presence on the farm had even rejuvenated the land’s ecosystem. He has recorded 15 species returning to the property.

He said has also confirmed what he already knew: the buffalo are intelligent creatures. They don’t cower from storms, but instead head right into it, knowing if they persist through the initial violence, it will pass quicker.

Perhaps, that’s how the buffalo have survived the turmoil tossed at them throughout history, Hampton said. They take hardship in stride and keep going.

Much like Hampton has.

It’s been a long ride to Blackfish Bison Ranch, but every day, Hampton takes off like Gus McCrae, chasing the wild herd, knowing there will still be buffalo left to chase today, tomorrow and for years to come — thanks in part to the buffalo’s rugged durability and to ranchers like Hampton who reckoned the bison sure were pretty.

Local restaurant specializes in serving up fresh favorites

Paul Howard has given away more food over the years than he has sold.

Howard, 58, and owner of Smokin’ Howards, has worked for various roofing companies in New York and Kentucky to eventually running a roofing company of his own. No matter where he worked or who it was, he always made sure those around him were well-fed. 

In the back of his mind, Howard said he knew he’d have a restaurant one day.

“I had to let people sample so I could reel them in,” he joked. 

When Howard was 7 years old, his aunt, who raised Howard, told him she wasn’t going to live forever. She told Howard to get in the kitchen and start cooking.

“She believed in you learning and not be outside playing,” Howard said.

So, instead of spending his spare time playing, he learned how to cook full-course meals. 

“I’ve been in the kitchen ever since,” Howard said. “And if it ain’t right, she would make me go back.”

His aunt believed in cooking fresh, so that’s how Howard came to be. She also believed in greens, lots and lots of greens. 

In 1976, Howard started roofing. He traveled to New York as a young man to get away on his own. 

“I went up there, worked up there and cooked up there,” Howard said.

Howard said the companies would send him to the store for groceries so he could come back and cook for them. 

“They liked my food, and everybody ate it,” he said.

Howard said he returned to Kentucky after five years, coming back for his aunt and uncle. Howard said he learned so much from his biological mother, aunt and uncle. Paul, Howard’s uncle, told him Howard had three choices in life: military, education or a trade. Howard said he chose a trade.

“I keep pushing myself each and every day,” Howard said. “I want to honor what they instilled in me.”

All he does now, and did, is cook and roof.

About three years ago, Howard and his daughter, Molly Carter, 31, discovered the restaurant on Southwind Golf Course needed a new tenant. 

“I told Molly this is what I like to do,” Howard said. “I cook anyway, let people taste good, fresh food, and I turned around, and we’ve been here three years.”

Carter has worked with Howard’s roofing business for years, so she said it felt natural to begin the restaurant journey with him. 

“I love to cook too,” Carter said. “I love being in the kitchen. He taught me how to cook when I was 8 years old. So I’ve been in the kitchen cooking three-course meals since.”

They rarely ate at fast food joints such as McDonald’s but instead feasted on delicious home-cooked meals.

“I knew his food was good, so when he asked, I said yeah, let’s do it,” Carter said. “But I really didn’t think we’d still be rocking and rolling like we are. The support has been amazing.”

Howard said his business has been successful with regulars coming out to eat and the catering business growing. 

“I appreciate all the people out there supporting us,” Howard said. 

Carter said the customers have turned into family, and she hopes the Smokin’ Howards family keeps growing.

Smokin’ Howards is only open Thursday through Saturday during the winter season but opens for six days a week in the spring and summertime. They also host karaoke on Friday nights. In the summer, they’ll also offer live music.

Smokin’ Howards offers a variety of southern home-cooking and bar-style food such as green bean salad, macaroni and cheese, catfish, frog legs and the best chicken wings in town. Carter said they also offer pulled pork sandwiches, hot dogs and other quicker foods to accommodate the golfers who want to get back on the course. And, of course, they put their heart into everything they cook. 

Carter also tends to the bar. 

“I make a good pixie stix, a good bloody mary and a good margarita too,” Carter said.

Howard said when he pours a drink, most people only need one.

“People will come in, and they’ll say they either want a Molly pour or a Paul pour,” Carter said.

When it comes to cooking, Howard’s picky. He has to cook fresh, and it has to be top of the line.

“We don’t do a frozen hamburger, we do a patted out hamburger,” Howard said. “We do fresh meatballs, great catfish, frog legs, anything I cook is top of the line.”

His favorite dishes are the fried chicken and macaroni and greens. Howard said also tries to make sure nothing goes to waste. 

Carter said she tells her customers they cook like this at home.

“We want them to feel at home, that’s what brings them back as well,” Carter said.

Other than the great food, customers can also expect cleanliness, Howard said. 

“When I wipe down, I wipe down with Dawn and bleach,” he said.

Though Smokin’ Howards is a bar and grill, it is also a family restaurant. Howard said he knows families need a restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere and that’s what he offers.

“I see that families need a place where kids can kind of breathe a little bit,” Howard said. “Let ‘em run.”

Howard said one of the most challenging parts about owning a business is finding the right staff.

“It’s a learning process,” Howard said. “ … We want you to be a family to us because we want everyone to grow and make money with us. We are here to see you learn … I want to take the time out and teach.”

In the future, Howard said he’d like to expand, perhaps build a bigger kitchen.

“The people make you grow,” he said.

Howard said he enjoys being on the golf course. Howard said he likes to play when he’s not cooking or roofing. Though, he’s still usually cooking on his days off. 

Carter said her father has passed out so much food that it made sense to start charging for it. Though, Howard still hasn’t lost his generous nature when it comes to his cooking. Howard recently donated pots of chili to Operation Happiness.

In all, Howard said he’s likely given away more than $10,000 in food over the years.

“It was great to hear people compliment your food,” Howard said. “ … It just made me want to continue on. That’s what makes me do it.”

“ … It’s something I’ll probably never stop doing.”

Trains still running under Christmas tree after 80 years

It was the winter of 1938 in Youngwood, Pennsylvania, when Bud Walthour, 6-years-old at the time, discovered a black O gauge American Flyer passenger train doing laps underneath his Christmas tree.

It was a gift from his father and the start of a lifelong love of trains.

The 1938 train celebrates its 80th year, operating as good as new — besides a few minor dents, as young boys are bound to make on model trains — underneath Walthour’s small Christmas tree in his apartment on Lana Lane. 

Walthour’s father bought him another train a few years following 1938, but the actual start of his collection began in 1950. 

Walthour was 18-years-old and in love. He was on the way to buy an engagement ring for his then soon-to-be wife, Margaret Ellen “Peg” Keough when he decided he’d stop in a train shop and buy himself a new model train, too. 

He had met Peg at age 16. Walthour was set up on a double-date with his buddy, Bill. Peg was Bill’s date. But neither couple hit it off; instead, Walthour went on to date and then marry Peg. 

“I think I made the right choice,” Walthour said.

They were married for 67 years; Peg passed away in January. 

But all 67 years, Peg Walthour supported her husband’s love for trains. There was never a Christmas without a train under the tree. Walthour sets the 1938 train up every five years, alternating among other trains in his collection.

For 80 years, Bud Walthour has always had a train set underneath his Christmas tree. LASHANA HARNEY/THE SUN

“We never had the tree with a pile of gifts, but we had the train,” Walthour said.

Walthour said he continues putting out the trains under the Christmas tree because of nostalgia. The trains bring about fond memories. As a boy, he would visit his grandfather and two of uncles, all of which had worked on the railroad, to see their trains set up underneath the tree. They would compare and see how each one differed.

When Walthour, now 86, moved to Winchester two years ago, he finally had the room to set up his massive collection, made up of more than 30 locomotives and 104 cars. He photographs and catalogs each piece of his collection.

He bought his latest train, a GP7 model, in March at a train show in South Carolina. 

Walthour attends train shows all over and frequents train shops when he can find him; though he also browses eBay often, as in the age of the internet, it is convenient and easy, Walthour said. He buys, trades, and occasionally sells. 

Walthour will also go on train excursions, such as the New River Train Excursion which takes passengers through the scenic hills of West Virginia.

Walthour said he prefers purchasing older trains, such as ones made in the 1950s compared to the cheaper, modern model trains sold as “toys.”

“[The 1950s trains] were built to last,” he said.

Walthour said he’s unsure of how much he has spent over the years on his collection, but the price tag never bothered him. If it brings him happiness, it’s worth it, he said.

As the train moves around the two 3×8 foot connecting tracks Walthour built himself and designed with AutoCAD, so do tiny people. One tiny person walks down the stairs when the train passes, and another comes out of one small home, one can pack ice into the back of a train car and another can pick up logs with the proper equipment. 

It’s intricate, each tiny part added to the grandeur of it all, Walthour said. 

Walthour, complete in a custom train shirts made by his daughter Cyndi Downing, sometimes sits in awe at the spectacle. 

Walthour said his train room is still a work in progress. He isn’t done adding to his collection. He even plans to add another track soon.

“[I like] just looking for something that I don’t have,” Walthour said.

But this year, he celebrates another “trainiversary.” 

This Christmas, he watches the 1938 black O gauge American Flyer passenger train take a few laps around the tree, with the same wonder and fervor as he did 80 years ago.

Pipe Perfection

Clark residents among rare few who make historic pipe organs sing

In the nearly empty sanctuary at First Christian Church, settled on the corners of Hickman and Highland Streets, red, green, yellow and blue light seeps through the stained glass windows, casting light on the heightened noise of the decades-old pipe organ.

It is one of a handful of pipe organs in Clark County, and one of only a smattering of pipe organs in the world. 

Organists are even more scarce. 

But Winchester is lucky to have a few including Anne Willis, Larry Sharp, husband and wife duo Mike and Nancy Dunn, and others.

Top row, left to right: Mike Dunn and Larry Sharp. Bottom: Anne Willis and Nancy Dunn. LASHANA HARNEY/THE SUN

Most — if not at all — organists have had some background playing the piano, and at some point in time, they become intrigued by the scores of the moving parts of the pipe organ, producing sounds organized in several dimensions, speaking a musical language no other instrument can. 

Nancy Dunn, a West Virginia native who has lived in Kentucky most of her life, said her mother tricked her into learning the organ. While in high school, she had grown tired of practicing the piano, so her mother signed her up for organ lessons.

“I had never thought about the organ in my whole life,” Nancy said.

For Mike Dunn, Nancy’s husband, it was a different story. He was finishing up seminary school and looking for jobs when he was told most churches offer a higher salary for those who can also play the organ.

Husband and wife duo Mike and Nancy Dunn often play duets on the organ at First Christian Church in Winchester. LASHANA HARNEY/THE SUN

“I said oh sure, I can play,” Mike said. “And I immediately began taking lessons. I’m still learning.”

“Well, organists are always learning,” Nancy said.

Both Nancy and Mike have been playing more than 30 years. They often play duets together.

Anne Willis, an organist of 50 years, said the pipe organ is often dubbed the king of instruments. It is a complex machine with pipes of every size and kind, of every shape and color — tall or small, slender or wide, from booming and bombastic to hushed and delicate. 

Much like the organists who play them, each pipe organ is different from the next.

In the old days, before electricity, playing the organ was a community effort. Willis said she had heard tales of the grand churches, especially in Germany, bringing paupers off the streets to go down in the basement and pump air into the organ’s big bellows with their feet while the organist would practice upstairs. 

The foot pedals on an organ are the hardest parts of the instrument to learn. LASHANA HARNEY/THE SUN

Nowadays, the organist is the lone artist, attuned to their visceral sense of sound, with all of the power at their finger- and toe-tips. 

The organ can have anywhere from two to seven manuals, maybe more. There are keys on top of keys on top of keys with each combination creating a unique sound unlike any other. And the pipes, there are many, many pipes. The organ at First Christian Church has nearly 900 pipes.

The pipes at First Christian Church. LASHANA HARNEY/THE SUN

Willis, a Clark County native, has played all sorts, some here in town at First Baptist Church and First Christian Church; others across the country in Tennessee, California and Oklahoma.

Willis attended the University of Kentucky to major in music performance with an emphasis on the organ. Today, there are no organ majors.

“It takes a lot of study,” Willis said. “And we’re not prone to doing that these days.” 

Willis said technology and digitized instruments might have led to the decline in aspiring organists.

But Nancy said she has seen some younger musicians taking an interest so it  smay be making a comeback. Time will tell. 

Regardless, the art itself is not dead.

Nancy is the chief organist at First Christian Church; Mike is the music director. They’ve worked together for 10 years.

Willis currently plays the organ at First United Methodist Church on Hickman Street; it’s been her main gig since 2015.

She also holds the title of director of music.

“I’m an anomaly around here,” Willis said. “That’s not usually done around here.”

Willis’ love for music goes way back, though. In the fourth grade, her teacher recognized her talent and begin enlisting Willis to during music class. From there, Willis started to accompany school choirs.

Betty Cowen and her husband helped introduce the organ to Willis. They were the music directors of local schools in the 70s as well as the music directors at First Christian Church. 

“They just kind of adopted me,” Willis said.

At 16 years old, Willis was captivated by the organ’s power and its endless possibilities for making music. 

“The sound of that instrument is so widely unlike any other instrument,” Willis said. 

Though, Willis said it’s more like choreography rather than playing the instrument.

The newest organ in Winchester was installed in 1975. There aren’t many churches installing organs in the 21st century. It’s expensive. The replacement value for the organ at First United Methodist Church is more than $500,000. 

Willis said it’s important to remember her local predecessors, such as Faye McCready, Opal Gravett, Ruth Osborne and Billie Pace.

“They all preceded us in our churches here,” Willis said. “We all studied with them … They were kind of our organ ancestors.”

Larry Sharp has played at Beaumont Presbyterian Church in Lexington for four years. In all, he’s been playing the organ for more than 30 years.

Larry Sharp has played the organ for more than 30 years. LASHANA HARNEY/THE SUN

“It’s a good hobby,” Sharp said. “Everyone else I know golfs, and I play the organ.”

Sharp said Gravett, who had played the organ for more than 50 years, taught Sharp most everything he knows about the instrument.

“Looking back, the joke goes Opal always saw my interest, my temperament and thought this would be a good fit,” Sharp said. “But no, she was looking for a sub. And I learned that as soon as I started messing around with it a little bit and I was like great, I have enough music for a Sunday, and she would say great, I’m going to take this Sunday off.”

Though, nowadays, it’s more challenging finding a sub. Sharp said last time he looked for a sub he made 13 calls. 

Often, he will go through the Lexington chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Most of the Winchester organists are members. Sharp was the previous dean to the local AGO.

In smaller towns, such as Winchester, it’s challenging finding competent organists, Willis said.

Anne Willis plays the organ at First United Methodist Church. LASHANA HARNEY/THE SUN

“It’s not an easy thing to fill in small towns,” she said. “Smaller towns and churches like this don’t have the budget to pay.”

But Winchester has found luck. Nearly every Sunday, an organist can be found playing one of the few pipe organs in town, acting as the hand — and the feet — to the king of instruments. 

Every organist plays because they love the instrument from its voluminous, “knock your socks off” loud to its “quiet as a Nightingale” whispers. Their job as organists is to inspire the audience to sing along, guiding enthusiasm and championing worship in their respective churches.

It all stemmed from a general love for music. Willis, Sharp, the Dunns all said they love music and what it does for the soul. 

“[Music is] a wonderful way to express the wide range of human emotions and the human condition,” Mike said.

Though, Nancy said it’s more ambiguous to her. She connects with music for reasons unknown.

“I can’t think of a reason of why I love [music],” Nancy said. “I love it. I don’t know why.”

Whatever the reasons, their love for music — and the music — will never die. And for that reason, they said, the art will live on.


I devised a social media plan to film a mini video series to help Winchester in the Small Business Revolution competition. The Winchester Sun posted a video each day to help garner support from the community. 

Brenda Salyers

Annette Wagner

Joseph Miller

Ed Burtner

Brett Cheuvront